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Sports Facilities (Voluntary Groups)

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

7. What support her Department makes available for the involvement of voluntary groups in the provision of sports facilities. (74923)

The provision of sports facilities is primarily a matter for local authorities, which take into account local views. On top of that, there has been unprecedented investment in sports facilities over the past five years—in excess of £1 billion of lottery and Exchequer money. Much of that is now coming on stream. In addition, at the heart of the building schools for the future investment strategy of more than £40 billion over the next 15 years are sports facilities to which the community generally will have access.

I welcome that answer, but will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning Liberal Democrat Stockport council for its decision to deny the community group, Friends of Reddish Baths, the opportunity to run the beautiful Edwardian baths in my constituency—the only public swimming baths that serve the north of the borough of Stockport—despite the fact that the group has produced a superb business plan and the council’s only alternative is for the building to remain empty?

I would love to condemn the Liberal council, but I will refrain from doing so, because I can tell my hon. Friend that the local authority has now gone into partnership with the Friends of Reddish Baths and agreed to join the group in meeting the cost of a feasibility study on options for replacing the baths in Reddish, and will help with the bid for the capital cost of any replacement. I hope that common sense is now prevailing and that some agreement can be reached so that they can continue to have that facility in Reddish. That would be on top of one of the biggest investment programmes in swimming pools—in excess of £250 million invested in swimming complexes over the past eight years.

Does the Minister accept that, given the reduction in and redistribution to sports of funding for good causes, voluntary groups in particular have lost out? Will he therefore ensure that funding for good causes is increased to the original 25 per cent?

That is fundamentally wrong. A huge amount of investment is going into sport, well beyond that coming from the lottery that is directed to Sport England. As I said, building schools for the future is one of the biggest investment programmes in sports facilities. The investment via local authorities is over and above that from Sport England. Our investment in schools and the school sport partnership is the biggest investment. There will be 3,000 school sports co-ordinators. That means a teacher having two to three days a week backfilled by another teacher, which is a huge investment.

On coaching, we will have 3,000 community coaches on the ground by the end of next year. We are talking about the biggest investment in coaching, led by sports coach UK. The overall investment in sport is definitely the largest that we have seen and makes up for some of the massive under-investment under the Conservative Administration, who sold off playing fields, under-invested and cast sport aside.

My right hon. Friend is correct to highlight the record investment, but, rightly, the question was about the role of volunteers in sport. Does he acknowledge that sports volunteering makes up 26 per cent. of all volunteering? We still have problems in terms of access for many people, the number of Criminal Records Bureau checks and numerous bits of red tape that get in the way of people volunteering at local level. Will he ensure that, at every stage, volunteering is made easy for local people who just want to contribute to their sports club or sports arena, or to contribute through the schools that he mentioned? Will he get rid of as much of the unnecessary bureaucracy as possible to make things easier for people?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Some of that red tape is important because of the safeguards that it provides for parents and those involved in sport, but the Russell report made clear to the Government what really needs to be done not just to get the investment, but to build the capacity in volunteering. We are taking that seriously and I hope that, over the next few months and years, we will build an infrastructure for volunteering that will be second to none. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend is saying, but the investment in volunteering—directly, through the governing bodies and through the Learning and Skills Council—is to be commended and will reap great dividends.